Introduction: Scavenge Free Electronics, Food, and Help the Environment

Picture of Scavenge Free Electronics, Food, and Help the Environment
Ok, so you're short on money, and you need free stuff, or maybe you just want to get some free electronics equipment and food.

So we're going to show you how to scavenge free stuff!

With a little practice, scavenging and recycling waste can become lifelong habits. It's truly amazing how much money you can save. You don't need to do everything we mention (and we've just scratched the surface of what's possible when truly desperate), but if you've been eating instant ramen for as long as you can remember and would kinda like to watch TV someplace more private than the bar down the street, this one's for you.

In fact, if you'd like to get free equipment and lower your cost of living, read on, McDuff!

  • And a special thanks to my collaborators!

All who collaborated - RishnaiSkunkbaitPlasmanaThermoelectricJellyWoo

Step 1: Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Picture of Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Talk to your friends. Maybe someone you know has got a VCR they want to get rid of. Maybe someone just came back from vacation and will give you the casings from their disposable cameras.

I have friends who have gotten 10's of bikes from friends, accumulating 30-40 bikes, and i can borrow/get a lot of stuff from my dad's lab... - AnarchistAsian

Why bother asking strangers when the answer may be right in your Rolodex?

Step 2: Trade!

Picture of Trade!
Speaking of scavenging, suppose your neighbors haven't quite hit that point in their lives where they start getting rid of cool old electronic stuff. Whatever shall you do?

What you can get:

Never fear, we can trade! People get rid of a lot of furniture. Nice furniture. We've fully furnished the house a few times with curbside finds. Believe it or not, not everything that's on the curb is tacky, and it's not all in good condition, but if you don't need furniture and it's in good shape, it can become good money!

How to get it:

and we've all heard of craigslist
In fact, if you're trading, especially if you're looking for something specific, come up with something interesting and/or valuable to trade and post an offer to trade on there.
  • "Will trade Class A 100W/channel amp for Moog Taurus II"
works if you have such an amp laying around. You don't even need to stay in the same train of thought. How about
  • "Will trade fenders and tank from '55 Pan for Class A amp"?

trading is a great way to get rid of stuff you don't need, and get stuff you do need for free!

Step 3: Cameras--disposable, Less Disposable, and What's Inside

Picture of Cameras--disposable, Less Disposable, and What's Inside


Go to your local camera shop. A lot of them will have cameras that are too old to have parts support and are slightly broken. Folks essentially abandon them when they come in for a new camera, and the guy behind the counter really doesn't care that much about a 1973 Sears with a worn-down winder.

You can get these free or for a song. Unless they've got a screwed up lens, your camera won't come with a lens, and there might be some other little worn parts, but you can fix those... You will then have a free film SLR! (Lenses sold separately) Now, if you can find some solid lenses, you may even be able to sell them, or use them! Lenses for cameras are often worth more the actual camera!
And you can get:
  • lenses to sell/use
  • a free, fixable camera
  • neodinium magnets
  • springs
And whatever else you can find inside!


so for electronics parts from disposables so go to a film developing place, you know, the sort of place where a gum-popping ex-waitress calls you hun, takes your photos, and runs them through that gigantic machine of awesomeness that develops them.
so just ask for some used-up disposable cameras. tell them you're re-using them for a science project. and remember! they aren't for coil guns or shocking people!!!! never,EVER tell them that.

What you can do with them:
so why do this? Inside there's a high-voltage charger circuit, capacitors, leds, and other wonderous things. THAT'S WHY.
You can use those parts to:
Or whatever other electronics fun you want to use them for!

And don't attempt this unless you have experience with high voltage and electronics...
the last thing we need is another stupid teenager who thought they were badass for shocking people at school....

Step 4: Fancy Up Your Living Room!

Picture of Fancy Up Your Living Room!

What you can get:

I got an:
  • 8-track deck/amp,
  • two really nice 7-inch speakers
  • mid-quality amp
  • 14-inch speaker
  • five VCRs
  • 36-inch color TV
And could have (if I'd had the space) gotten an analog keyboard, all within five blocks of my house. - Rishnai
Anything you don't need, you can just sell on ebay

How to get it:

Look around on and around trash day. People get rid of all sorts of nice stuff. Tape decks that eat tapes just need a small belt fixed, VCR's, lamps, couches... People who have a larger budget don't have the attention span for that, so it ends up on the curb. That's where you come in.

Of course, some of you college students must have done this at one time or another...

Step 5: Dumpster Diving

Picture of Dumpster Diving
When living on the cheap ceases to be a hobby and becomes a way of life, you have to step things up a notch. The next obvious step is dumpster diving.

What you can get:

I've gotten:
  • amplifiers
  • TVs
  • bicycles
  • lawnmowers
  • weed-eaters
  • ice-chests
  • clothes
  • books
  • furniture
  • dorm-size fridges
  • tons of lamps and clocks
I've sold literally thousands of dollars worth of this stuff. I even sold the vintage amp on ebay to a guy in France! Some items I give away to the truly needy. Other items find their way into my home and workshop where they are put to good use.

How to get it:

It goes beyond the usual "trash day" scrounging and occasionally requires that you get a little dirty. I recommend a good pair of coveralls, steel-toed boots and a good pair of gloves for this pursuit.
Personally I steer clear of dumpster food, but that's just my preference. There are other cleaner, safer places to scrounge for good surplus food, but I certainly hate to see ANY food go to waste.

One word of caution, "Be polite". There are others who dumpster dive, and I've run across a few who are quite territorial. Use your people skills, and be willling to share!


Step 6: How to Find Free Electronic Parts

Picture of How to Find Free Electronic Parts
Buying electronic parts may be very expensive, but I know a few tricks on how to get free electronic equipment which has lots of valuable electronic parts!

Getting free electronic stuff is easier than you thing, you just need to look around...


  • Schools - If you nicely ask your headmaster that you can have the electronic stuff they might throw out, they might give it to you...
  • Computer Repair Store - If you ask the manager nicely for blown electronic equipment, they will usually give it to you. If you get a blown DVD/CD burner, you are very lucky, you had got a laser that cost several hundred bucks! Check out this instructable if you do get a burner.
  • Skips - For those Americans that does not know, it is an english word for huge trash containers, what you would call dumpsters. And that is where I thrive, I find not only electronic stuff, but a lot of other great stuff as well. In England it is legal to collect stuff from skips, you just only need to watch out for the territorial people, you don't want to see them...
  • Trash Days- Go for a drive or walk around on your trash day, you can find a lot of great stuff as well. I had even found a still-working 400 british pounds ($800) pressure washer!

- Plasmana

CRT monitors!!!

What you can get:
They have a variety of parts inside them for example:
  • Crystals
  • Microchips
  • Capacitors
  • Resistors
  • Diodes
  • Mosfets
  • Transistors
  • Relays
  • VGA cable
  • Electromagnets
  • Potentiometers/Variable resistors
  • Fuses
  • Inductors
  • Buttons/Switches
  • Bridge Rectifiers
  • Transformers
Dont' know what any of those are? Then you probably won't need them...
Though if you are into electronics and high-voltage, they can be very useful!ahem AND FREE

How to get it:
Have a look around, If you see a CRT monitor (the one that isn't a flatscreen) be sure to pick it up. They are usually found at landfills, in dumpsters/garbage bins, outside places with lots of computers etc. They may not be as easy to find as other stuff on this site, but keep looking! They'll be well worth it!

If you wanted, you could modify it to be a oscilloscope, Use it for parts, Use the screen as a vacuum bomb (don't do this at home, not enviromentaly friendly either) and you can even make a high voltage powersupply out of the flyback transformer here's how


Step 7: Food and Drink (can You Live Without It?)

Picture of Food and Drink (can You Live Without It?)
Can you live without it? it think not..


There are many ways to get free food. Besides making friends with people who have money and possibly bartering (will drum for food), here are some tried-and-true methods.

  • Bakery and restaurant waste, or other people's unclaimed (if you are the hobo type)
  • Roadkill (ewwwwwwww)
  • Hunting/trapping
  • sneaking into a business conference for the free cookies and pizza...
  • mooching at parties...
  • Picking free apples...


Spoiled fruit and veggies from the grocery store can be had if you ask the right people. Find that person at your local supermarket. Make them your friend. The unsaleable fruits and veggies they can provide you with are often some trimming and possibly thorough cooking away from being perfectly edible, safe, and delicious.

Check behind bakeries, especially. They have to get rid of a lot of bread-like goods. Why let the seagulls have it? Even better, make friends with an employee. Most of my freshman year, I survived on stale and sometimes oddly misshapen (when they had new hires) honey whole wheat, pumpernickel, and raisin breads from the local Great Harvest.

Back in the day, when they barely had a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, my dad and his siblings ate well for a whole winter on millet and steak. How, do you ask? They knew a guy who worked at a local steakhouse, who would get a shipment of steak in the morning, serve it throughout the day, then freeze whatever they had left over in case they ran out the next day. After the second day, they'd throw it out. Their contact made sure that the frozen steaks found their way over to their freezer instead of the dump. The millet was from the pet food shop.

- Rishnai

Sounds nice, huh?


most resturants, coffee shops, and grocery stores will either have drinking fountains, or be required to give you free cups of water if you ask. Some places will even just give you free soda if you drop by! A place near my friend's house does it, and we always bike over there when we're thirsty. - AnarchistAsian
oh yeah, and drinking strait out the soda fountain never hurt anyone...

If you are thirsty or in need of free calories to the point of having no shame, you can grab a cup out of the trash at McDonalds or some such, rinse it out, and get refills. It's tacky. It's not filling. It's qutie possibly unhealthy. But it's free, and one can only drink out of a garden hose for so long, y'know? Now go get some solid food.
YEAH, IF YOU'RE AT THAT POINT, GO AHEAD but only if you're at that's hoping you never are

Step 8: Free Apples

Picture of Free Apples
Do you ever see all of those beautiful apples ripens on apple trees in public area and want to pick them? But don't know if it okay do it or not? And just watch them fall off the tree and rot away?

Well, you can pick apples from public areas, but you need to obey the law first...
  • You can ONLY pick apples from trees if its branches are growing over or growing in public areas, like along the road, pavement (sidewalk), and areas like that. However, it is illegal to pick apples that are within somebody's property line.

Note: Some people may complain at you if you pick apples from a tree or a branch that is over the public areas, they have no right to do that. However, they DO have the right to complain at you, or call the police if you pick apples that are within their property...

Important note: This rule is used only in United Kingdom, and in most parts of USA, in some states of USA, it is illegal to pick apples from trees in public places, check with your local authorities first. Also, I don't know if you can pick apples in public areas in other countries.

For more information, check out this instructable.

- Plasmana

Step 9: Request Freebies From Walmart

Picture of Request Freebies From Walmart
Walmart has a webpage where you can get free samples. Just sign up to get free cereal and other food items and enjoy a couple meals on someone else's penny. Some of you may consider walmart as the evil giant mega-corporation store, but you may just change your mind after you get some free stuff from them. Notice i said Free.

What you can get-

Stuff like:
  • cereal
  • lotion
  • cookies
  • potato chips
  • granola bars
  • candy
  • neosporin
  • band-aides
  • soap
Mostly house-hold items, and food.

How to get it:

All you have to do is go to and enjoy free items now! From there you can get free samples, free trials, discounts, and free music. It is quick, easy and from a trusted company. Enjoy and happy sampling.

- JellyWoo

Step 10: Swag Bucks

Picture of Swag Bucks

(From my Forum Topic):

There's this great site called, and it's a search site powered by Google and Ask search engines. Every few searches, you get swag bucks which you can redeem for prizes on the site, including digital gift cards, and you can use swag bucks to buy ANYTHING on the internet, so when you sign up, you don't even have to put your real address.

You can also get swag bucks by using swag codes you find on blogs, by trading in items, and even by shopping.

Another thing you can do is get referrals, and you can get up to 100 swag bucks from each person you referred, so if they earn, you earn. My referral link is: but you don't have to use my referral of course.

Step 11: NOW PARTY LIKE IT'S 1929!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Picture of NOW PARTY LIKE IT'S 1929!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

get your friends together, get some free food, sit on free furniture, play with free electronics, and PARTY LIKE IT'S 1929!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Gelfling6 (author)2016-07-08

Majority now, the dumpster is enclosed, with a compactor, and they
deliberately destroy (read SMASH, rendering the item inoperable) the
items before discarding. I agree, it's appalling how much is
discarded.. Up until they began 'Mandatory Electronics Recycling', the
town I lived in was collecting electronics into a watertight shipping
box, with box bins inside.. They were being sold off (???) to an
electronics recycler who supposedly was paying them for the items..
Unfortunately, this is what has happened with 'Gold-Miners', is they'll
collect the items, grind them up, subject them to caustic acids &
chemicals to dissolve the gold, then subject those to neutralizing
chemicals to extract it.. But, the part no-one seems to understand, or
realize, is the cost of disposing of now caustic and VERY poisonous
chemicals also containing heavy metals. They may extract $1,000 in
gold, but they're still left with $10,000 in toxic waste. Also,
despite being discarded, there are still working components inside, that
are still being needlessly destroyed. I've rebuilt computers discarded
by others (in fact, sending this from one now.) hard drives can be
ERASED, but some treat them as if data that has been erased, can somehow
be miraculously reconstructed and pose a national security risk to a
small-time company. (I've wiped plenty of hard drives, and believe me,
It IS scary what some people leave. Social Security info, Personal data,
Personal (Not to be shared, I.E. Nude) pictures...) But, wipe them,
format them and the data IS removed! LCD screens, I've repaired plenty
of laptops with the discarded screens on laptops that were scavenged for
their hard drive, memory, and discarded the rest. LCD Intact! (though
majority the screen is either accidentally smashed, or deliberately

LetsExplodeSomething (author)2010-05-14

 I've heard from friends that if u wait until best buy gets new models in you can get computers out of the dumpsters behind the place.  Anyone ever tried this?

I dunno. Seems unlikely that they'd do that and lose thousands of dollars. I would think they would sell them at a discount, or maybe to an overstock place.

I know this is an old thread comment area, but, I know it is hard to believe but the amount of merchandise they throw away is appauling. The above person was telling the truth

no but it might work ill try tommorow im off of school but if not at best buy try a computer only store's dumpster in my area its canton computers...also for free food i like to sign up for newsletter for places and i usally get good coupons just found one today for free doritos.

 would love to hear how it goes

these days major companies lock up their dumpsters at night. I worked at michaels arts and crafts and they locked them up there too! Like who is gonna want a glue stick from the trash?! My supervisor told me things like vases and home decor needs to be destroyed before putting it in the trash. There was a vase i wanted, it was hidden in the store for almost a year and since it was out of their ctatlog i couldnt have it and he smashed it. Its terribly sad businesses care that i could have gotten it for a penny instead of the $12 it wasnt worth anyway.

Really? That's a shame. That's really bad business practice. Why throw something away when you can sell it and make up for some of the money initially invested?

dbuckley6 (author)2014-05-09

bit late on discussion, but the police in UK have no interest in peopl e removing things from dumpsters. A friendly cop quizzed me removing a shelf one evening - he told me their only concern was people filling up other people dumpsters, esp with things like used paint thinners, old motor oil etc. If the poster can find reports otherwise , not everything on net is true.....

930913 (author)2009-02-11

I have friends who have, from dumpsters: -A longbow -Several swords and machetes -Laptop -Bikes -Tv -Longbow

stitches22 (author)9309132009-06-22

you kinda said longbow twice, just to point it put. btw, awesome instructable!

Maybe he got 2 of them. LOL

thepelton (author)9309132009-05-26

I have gotten ring binders and wastebaskets out of the dumpster near my apartment, behind an office building, but not a laptop. I would check it for viruses before using it if I did.

ReCreate (author)9309132009-05-01

I have found a brand-new(2005Ish) Dell Laptop with built in wifi and a very good battery,and a bunch of other stuff too

AnarchistAsian (author)9309132009-02-12

ohhhh wow... the things people throw away...

zombiehunter96 (author)2010-03-31

Ah the joys of electronics. A few years back I decided I was gonna teach mysefl a little about electronics. I decided i would start with a "camra tazer", all was going well untill I forgot to take out the AA batteries and got my thumb stuck in the "shocky area lol" and got electrocuted untill the charge ran out..... good times, good times.

putty1cat (author)zombiehunter962012-02-13

Oh thank you! That gave me a good belly laugh.

LoneWolf (author)zombiehunter962010-04-14

"shocky area"

Nice of you to include the Scientific term.

yeah it's hard not to get shocked, unless you have gloves

SteeleWorks (author)2012-01-08

are you sure that somebody hadn't just left their pressure washer out beside there bins

spylock (author)2011-07-04

Where I live we have a program so that you can leave items that others may want under a poll shed at our county dump,people throw away alot of nice things.

Chris Tucker (author)2011-06-05

My 'graphics/Photoshop' workstation here is a Macintosh G3 "Desktop". Someone replaced the 233 Mhz G3 CPU with a 500 Mhz G4 CPU. Found it in Cambridge (MA) on the curb, a few steps ahead of the trash pickup. The ViewSonic CRT was also a curbside find.

The keyboard is an Apple Extended II, purchased at a local Goodwill for one dollar. The mouse is an eBay find.

I have a USB 2.0/FireWire 400 PCI card (cheap find on eBay) in the computer.

A Wacom ArtzII pad, again from eBay is the most expensive item. US$30.00.

The Apple Color OneScanner 1200/30 was another curbside find, and the LaserWriter 4/600 PS was a gift.

So, for about US$50.00, give or take, I have a dedicated Photoshop machine.

The OS is Mac OS9. For my modest graphic editing needs, it's perfect.

hellstudios (author)2011-05-31

hah, is that a coil from a car in that picture?

netcandyman (author)2011-02-20

I Googled dumpster diving and here is the link that found most useful

Most of the topics that came up were theft and health.

Theft: Depending on the State in the U.S. or country determined whether DD was illegal.

Health: I'm not going into details but food poisoning is on top.


Top of my list.

Do you know what's really under there?

I'd hate to end a fruitful day of treasure hunting with a visit to the hospital because I was impaled by sharp pointy things I couldn't see.

I admit that I've pulled a few things from a dumpster. The only difference is that I would never climb into one. If I can reach it safely, I'll grab it.

Shortly after pick-up day I'd use a long stick with some sort of hook on it. The one thing I try to avoid is struggling with the object. Sure, you might have struck it rich, but if you have to go through that much effort to extricate your find, it mean you rarely have a complete visual on the thing. The part you're looking for is buried under junk, or it may not even be attached to the end of the stuff you think is there.

netcandyman (author)2011-02-20

I was running errands one day and encountered road construction. The traffic was rerouted through sides street. As I drove down one of those streets I saw a make-shift shelter of hastily assembled lumber and a large blue tarp. As I drove passed, I saw a very large sign that read, "FREE", and on either side were sitting two nearly complete PCs. The only parts that were missing were the mouse, keyboard, monitor and power cables. Obviously, a shot at more PC parts, or even better, new additions to my collection of PCs. When I got them home, I connected then, and they worked. Now I have two 800 MHZ PCs sitting under my "PC table".

It just so happens that I have an interest in astronomy, so I help UC Berkeley's SETI@Home project by sorting through millions of bits of data searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (i.e S. E. T. I.). The other one is storage.

indivara (author)2008-10-19

Maybe you should mention the cartoon is from xkcd

AnarchistAsian (author)indivara2008-10-19

yeah, sure, but most people already know...

indivara (author)AnarchistAsian2008-10-19

of course... I was just thinking of the legal implications... should have mentioned earlier - great instructable! got my 5* :-)

AnarchistAsian (author)indivara2008-10-20

thanks! but, the thing is... on instructables, most projects are "attribution-sharealike-noncommercial, blah blah blah... in other words... we can use any pictures, and we don't make profit, and they don't mind...

hintss (author)AnarchistAsian2010-12-22

xkcd is CC attribution-noncommercial, so you have to acknowlege it

luudvig (author)2009-11-23

Here in Norway they are called containers

opanocat5 (author)luudvig2010-02-14

 Hooray for Politically Correct! (Sarcastic) Why don't you just call them trash cans, what harm does that do?

zuner2012 (author)opanocat52010-06-10

You do realize that in other regions of the world, there are different words for different items? Geez, I mean cmon already! Why don't we call them rubbish bins?

hintss (author)zuner20122010-12-22

because they're dumpsters

animalcrosser5 (author)opanocat52010-10-25

That's not PC, PC Is calling it a "Cylindrical refuse receptacle."

Boppo3 (author)2010-12-07

I'll help u with the referral but don't forget to help me with mine too!!!

AnarchistAsian (author)Boppo32010-12-07


coleyy (author)2010-12-02

here is a tip: if you see a large capacitor it most likley still has at least a little electricity still in it, so hold a screwdriver with the plastic part in your hand and touch the leads with the metal part to discharge it so it wont shock you. make sure there are no power connected to the thing or it will recharge. there may be a spark or a tiny lightning when you do it, but that is better than being electrocuded. You should also do this to parts you are unfarmilliar with just to be safe.

AnarchistAsian (author)coleyy2010-12-07

oh yeah i do that sometimes too

macgyverfan (author)2010-07-20

another thing you can do is (if your over 18) use free product testing sites like companies usually let you keep what you try. ;)

fegundez1 (author)2010-01-24

It isn't free if you have to buy something. These websites that say free whatever then you have to participate in our offers are a disappointment

TFElite (author)2009-10-26

 Swagbucks Rocks!!!

AnarchistAsian (author)TFElite2009-10-28

i know, i already made 60 dollars worth of giftcards

mcz0804a (author)2009-10-17

Actually your lucky. Wal-Mart is ruining this nation.

muttyfutty (author)2009-08-29

Call me stupid but I don't get the apple joke... sn + apple?

sn is the chemical symbol for tin, and snapple is a juice (commonly apple juice)

AnarchistAsian can you give any idea on Instructables the Movie? Thanks.

Ohhh... lol Thanks (Need to get a old microwave, cant find one :(

netbuddy (author)2009-01-31

I hate to break it to you but dumpster diving and collecting or finding stuff on the side of the street is actually called "Theft by Finding" and it is a chargable offence meaning you get arrested for it. So beware when you do as your committing an offence for which you can be arested for.

AnarchistAsian (author)netbuddy2009-01-31

really? well people still do it anyway...

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